It’s very important to me that any space I live in feel like home. But as someone who has very little disposable income, I can’t afford to spend a lot on decorating my dorm room.

For that reason, I’ve become very good at decorating with very limited funds – in my sophomore year, I spent about $25 decorating the inside of my room at the beginning of the year, and $25 on the door (I justified that by reasoning that, as an RA, a welcoming door was very important). Here’s how I did it, in the hopes that you can use these  inexpensive ideas for dorm decorating on a budget to add some personality to your new home!


Dorm Decorating on a Budget - College Compass


Dorm Decorating on a Budget - College Compass

Dorm Decorating on a Budget - College Compass

A side note: the decorating I’m talking about excludes dorm staples like sheets and a lamp, so keep that in mind when making your own budget.

The basics: twinkle lights

The stereotype about college decorating is that no dorm is complete without Christmas lights. As typical as they are, twinkle lights are a cozy, easy, and inexpensive form of extra lighting. Around Christmastime, one strand of twinkle lights costs about $2 at CVS. Two to three strands, plus a set of command hooks ($6), is enough to decorate a room. Mine were butterfly lights that my mom got me for my birthday a few years ago, so for me, they were free ones I had saved up. Check your storage at home to see if you have any extras lying around!

The basics: photos

Photos also help make a foreign place feel like home. I included photos in my room in three ways: frames, a “photo waterfall” I made with ribbon (see below), and tacking them onto my room’s built-in corkboard. Printing photos costs anywhere from $0.05-0.20 per photo, and some online photo-printing websites have deals around back-to-school season where the first 50 prints are free. For me, printing 80 photos cost about $5.50. I got my favorite frame for  $1 at Goodwill.

And here is the “photo waterfall” I made. I only used double-sided tape to attach the pictures and some clear packaging tape to hang it up. The ribbon cost me $1 at Michael’s (for those of you keeping track, that’s $13 spent so far).

Dorm Decorating on a Budget - College Compass

Wall decorating: alternatives to posters

Posters are another dorm room staple, but that’s not quite my style. Instead, something I really liked was printing out pictures on 11 x 17″ paper, and using colorful printed wrapping paper from Paper Source. The 11 x 17″ prints were free using my college’s printers, and the single sheets from Paper Source ran about $2.75-4.95, depending on the sheet. I bought four for the cork board on my wall and one for my front door, and believe I spent about $13 total on the five of them ($26 so far). I also received a free poster from my college, which is hung over my pillow in the following picture:

Dorm Decorating on a Budget - College Compass
 Shown: printed 11 x 17″ pictures.

Cork boards and vision boards

One of my favorite things about my dorm room was that it came with an enormous cork board that filled up almost the entire wall. I used this to hang up colored papers, maps, photos, and little notes and reminders. I later also made a colorful “vision board” that I hung up there well. Having something so colorful and full of reminders of the people I loved kept my room cozy and cheerful. The costs for these things was included above, bringing my room total to $26 on decorations.

Dorm Decorating on a Budget - College Compass

Extra: Door Decorations

I also really liked having a friendly, welcoming door (this was especially relevant because I was an RA – I wanted something that was both colorful and indicated who I was, hopefully making me as approachable as possible). Here I used some extra pictures, some extra wrapping paper I got from my aunt after the coronation (Hup Holland Hup!) and a crafted flower wreath kit that I believe I bought at Paper Source for around $20, making $20 my door total. For both the door decorations and the ones on my cork board, little cards and papers piled up throughout the year, which is why they both look so bustling and full.

Dorm Decorating on a Budget - College Compass
Sexual health resources provided by the college for residents (not out of my pocket)!

What’s your favorite craft for dorm decorating on a budget?

This post was originally published It has been modified and improved for use at College Compass with permission of the author.